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Army chaplain releases debut documentary about disabilities, motorcycles and resilience: ‘You can’t quit’

Mark James, a voice in the documentary "Pounders: We Are Who We Are,” talks about his story and being involved in the project before the premiere at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (Kendall Warner / The Virginian-Pilot/TNS)

Lt. Col. Deborah Brown has spent her Army career offering spiritual guidance to service members. Now, she is trying to inspire others through her debut documentary.

Roughly 150 people, dressed to the nines, gathered on Jan. 13 at the downtown Norfolk Waterside Marriott for the premiere of “Pounders: We are who we are.” The 40-minute documentary chronicles the lives of four individuals as they overcome the challenges of living with spinal cord injuries and pursue their passion of riding motorcycles.

“They are the epitome of resilient,” Brown said.

Brown, who lives in Williamsburg, wrote and produced the film through her business, DAT Gypsy Productions. She first envisioned the venture 30 years ago but it took a backseat to her military career. She has served the Army as a chaplain for 23 years.

When asked about making a documentary now, she said it was all about the timing.

“And on a spiritual level, God said I could,” Brown added.

Brown brought this film to life with the help of her brother, Wendell Thompson, a Williamsburg resident who is living with a spinal cord injury. He is one of the four “pounders” featured in the documentary.

Thompson, a 59-year-old Army veteran, was injured in 1985 in a service-related incident. He is paralyzed from the waist down, and recently had his left leg amputated at the knee. He is still an avid motorcycle rider.

“When we ride motorcycles, we pound the road, pound the highway,” Thompson said. “We are pounders despite being in wheelchairs. That is what this is about.”

Riding motorcycles, Thompson said, frees his mind and his body from the wheelchair and helps him overpower negative perceptions, emotional struggles and physical obstacles. 

“I am not here to give up,” he said. “I am not about to. I never will.”

Marcus Claude, 42, is the youngest and most recent pounder. The Emporia resident was driving in February when he nodded off behind the wheel about a mile from his home. His vehicle collided with a tractor trailer.

“I spent all my life working, working, working and trying to save money,” Claude said. “But it was like God said, ‘Hey man, I am going to put the brakes on you.’ ”

Claude, a member of the National Guard, is going through the process of being medically discharged. He also served in the Army.

He said since his crash, he has a “new lease on life” and has grown closer with his family.

“I lost the ability to run, jump and do all those things but on the flip side, I gained all these wonderful people in my life,” Claude said.

The documentary was filmed in Williamsburg and Emporia, as well as New York City and Detroit, from July to October. JaeTech Studios, based in Hampton, handled the cinematography.

Other “pounders” featured are Mark James from New York City and Roosevelt Stevenson Jr. of Detroit. Brown hopes the four pounders’ stories — and those of their caregivers — will inspire others to overcome whatever challenges they face.

While Brown is still actively serving the Army at Fort Eustis in Newport News, she plans to dedicate more time to DAT Gypsy Productions and is looking to explore more stories that capture the essence of resilience and celebrate the human spirit.

“It is about not quitting,” Brown said. “You can’t quit because you are in pain. You can’t quit because you had a stroke. You can’t quit because we have a grip on you. We love you and we are going through it with you.”

“Pounders: We are who we are” can be streamed online at


© 2024 The Virginian-Pilot

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